August 18, 1918
It was a beautiful morning. I awoke about 5 a.m. my feet cramped and sore. I had slept all night in my boots because my baggage did not come and consequently I could not get them on and off again. There was no more sleep for me and I washed up and lighted my pipe.
After breakfast Nat Mason and I started for a walk about the grounds. About the time we had started we met the officer in charge of the enlisted men and he told us that during the night English women had climbed over the wire fence and entered the tents of the men and that he had been up all night watching.
Without question the morals were lax in this town as many of the officers were approached by the women.
Once outside the camp things were quiet and peaceful and there was a sense of freedom we had not felt since leaving home. The grounds were natural and fairly well cared for. There was no living thing in sight except the birds and an occasional squirrel.
We went back to camp about 10 a.m. and found that orders had been given to have our baggage on the street at 1 p.m.
We were on the street at the time ordered and stood there until 3 p.m. when we lined up to march. Where to no one knew and I doubt if anyone cared. We were filled with disgust. The food had been nauseating, we were not allowed to buy food at the canteen, we had been treated like children instead of being treated like men of our rank. No other army in Europe would have stood for the things we were forced to submit to at this time and during the days that followed.
At 3 p.m. we again put our 40 pounds on our backs, put our coats on our arms and marched back to the dock where we had debarked. It being Sunday there were more people on the street but they showed no evidence of enthusiasm, rather the air of toleration. Possibly however they were as enthusiastic as an Englishman can be.
At 4.10 p.m. we arrived at the dock and at 5.20 we began to embark on the S.S. St. George. By 6 p.m. we were all aboard.
This relatively small channel boat was packed to is utmost.
One could hardly move without watching his step. Packed like sardines was no exaggeration.
We were given life preservers that were black with dirt and the smell was worse than the appearance. In fact they were so filthy that I would have preferred taking my chances but orders were to be obeyed.
Things were most active during those few hours. Men were coming aboard, baggage was being brought on and freight was rapidly loaded. We had no idea where we were going and I think no one cared in particular where we were going. What ever our destination it could be no worse than what we had been through for the past 24 hours.
During all the excitement of getting men and baggage aboard an officer came about assigning staterooms for the ranking officers. At the moment it seemed fortunate that I was to have a berth in a stateroom as there seemed to be no place where one could sleep except on the floor. A little later the crew of the ship came about offering their own room for $2.50 per bunk.
At 7.15 the boat sailed, convoyed by a destroyer. It was just at sunset and a most beautiful cool summer evening. As we left the dock we all went on deck and the cool air was so refreshing after the heat of the march from camp. Everyone began to feel better natured and we were interested in the activities of the other transports in the river and the beauties of the shore. There was constant signals on the part of the ship and signals from the shore. However they meant nothing to us. We were somewhat surprised that we should be convoyed when we were inside the submarine nets.
This time we sailed down the river on the opposite side of the Isle of Wright and we surmised that our destination was Bolougne or Cherbourge – although it has been intimated that we were bound for Brest.
At 8.30 p.m. we anchored at the mouth of the harbor, just inside the submarine nets two other transports had arrived ahead of us and there were two destroyers watching us. The signals between the ships, and probably land were constant.
We sat on deck until 11.15, talking, watching, and altogether enjoying the beauty of the whole thing, giving no thought to the possible danger. I was talking to Perkins just before we went below and said “This is the happiest lot of men I have seen for a long time, and here we are on the edge of the most dangerous night we have experienced, how do you account for it?” Perkins replied “I do not believe any of them give a damn.” I agreed.
At 11.15 we were all ordered from the decks. The boat was so crowded there was more or less commotion but as we went below we found almost every available space filled with the bodies of sleeping enlisted men. One had to exercise the greatest care in order to avoid stepping on them. The human smell was overpowering, almost nauseating.
With caution I reached the stateroom without stepping on anyone and found my three companions already asleep. The actual stench of that stateroom was so great that it was impossible to think of going to bed and I turned hoping to find some place where the air would permit me either to sit up or sleep.
As I walked about there seemed to be no place where one could sleep with comfort so I decided to go into the dining room and sit up all night. As I went in I found that several men from my unit were there and there was some promise of getting a glass of beer but while we were waiting for the beer the lights suddenly went out.
I seemed to be left in the position of sitting up all night in a chair, but while I was sitting in the dining room I had noticed that the upholstering behind the wall tables let down to make a bunk. Some of our officers had been assigned to these bunks but by chance one of them happened to be vacant. I knew I could not find my way to any part of the ship without stepping on some of the enlisted men so I made my way to the vacant bunk and clothes and all went to sleep. It was much like sleeping on a shelf but the air in the dining room was comparatively fresh.
I had not been asleep long before I was conscious of feeling someone shaking me and telling me I had his bunk. I told him to go to, turned over and went to sleep again.
Sometime later I was conscious of the fact that the anchor was being hauled and that the boat was in motion but I promptly went to sleep again and did not wake until 3.15 a.m. when I was awakened by the dropping of the anchor.
The dining room was still dark, the odor of the room was nauseating, I was conscious of the filthy life preserver about my neck. Most of the other men in the room were sleeping. I slid off the shelf where I had been sleeping and went on deck.
I went on deck and it was evident that we had anchored in some harbour. It was still dark and it was impossible to make out where we were. One by one the men came on deck and as the daylight appeared I recognized the harbour of Cherbourge, that I had seen in 1903.
It was such a relief to get out of the smelly ship that I remained on deck for the rest of the time aboard.
At 5.30 we went below for breakfast and had oatmeal, bacon and eggs and coffee. The food was excellent and in fact we had supper the night before that was as good as anyone could ask for and the charge was three shillings.
At 5.45 the anchor was hauled and at 6.30 we docked. At 7.20 the last man of our unit was off the ship. At this time there was little activity about the docks. The boats that were with us at Southampton Harbor were not here. Their destination probably was elsewhere although we were told the boat we sailed on was one of the fastest channel boats, capable of 25.9 knots per hour.
At 7.30 a.m. we lined up again to march to another rest camp. Needless to say we were discouraged but we put our 40 pounds on our back and put our coats on our arms and cheerfully started on the march, in spite of the fact that the other officers were transported. Everything depended in France upon the “guts” of the C.O.
Another rest camp was ahead of us and once more we felt like H— at the thoughts of another of these holes.
This one proved to be very much worse than the one at Southampton.
From MS-397, Box 1, Folder 9. To read the diary in its entirety, visit Rauner Special Collections Library and ask to see the Harry Goodall papers (MS-397).